Saturday, 26 November 2016

A Review of Nick Redfern's "Nessie"

Having reviewed Malcolm Robinson's book on Nessie, I now move onto another recent publication by Nick Redfern entitled "Nessie: Exploring the Supernatural Origins of the Loch Ness Monster". Now, Malcolm's book had its fair share of references to the psychic, paranormal and supernatural. But, if that book was the starter on this subject, Nick's is definitely the main course.

Following in the tradition of Holiday's "The Dragon and The Disc", "Goblin Universe" and Shiels' "Monstrum!", we have waited over 25 years for another like minded book, and Nick Redfern is the man to continue this centuries old thread in the tale. Now, one would normally expect such a book to be rubbished as the majority of Nessie people continue to look to the biological for a solution.

I, too, seek an answer in the realms of zoology, but I can view myself as being able to critique Nick's book to a certain degree as I was in the paranormal Nessie camp many moons ago. In fact, if you want to read my views back in the 1980s, I refer you to one of the archived Nessletters from Rip Hepple here.

I also recently gave a talk at the Scottish UFO and Paranormal Conference in which I examined the links between Nessie and Ley Lines. Well, actually, I was regurgitating stuff I had done back in the 1980s. What I exactly think of those results, I am not sure myself!

Anyway, I move onto the book. If one is going to talk about supernatural Nessies, one must start at the beginning with St. Columba and progress through the tales of water horses, kelpies and other such mingled constructs of overlaid truth.

Opinions vary as to the nature of these beasts as perceived by those who once told tales of them to riveted audiences. Nick takes a view which is, shall we say, all encompassing as to their nature and relation to other Highland phenomena of the time and their shape shifting tendencies. You could probably call it a paranormal Grand Unified Theory.

Indeed, there is a large degree of overlap between my own book and Nick’s as the folkloric landscape is surveyed. The question is how literally should one take these tales? How big was the kernel of truth that was too often obscured by ancient raconteurs? That answer very much depends on who you ask and Nick supplies his own opinions on these pre-industrial demons. 

Taking those demonic forms into the modern Nessie era is not normally done by the majority of researchers, but Nick takes this oldest of Loch Ness Monster theories and attempts to map it onto the modern phenomenon.

But how does one go about proving that the Loch Ness Monster is a supernatural beast? What exactly does that mean? Is it a product of the human mind or another mind? Is it a real sentient entity in its own right or does it even have a substantial form? Nick homes in on his answer as the book progresses.

Though having proven beyond his own doubt that plesiosaurs are not the answer, how do you do the opposite for a paranormal cryptid? The evidence is circumstantial. But then again, is that not the way of it with Nessie theories of all shades?

From that period and 1933 onwards, Nick narrates the Nessie story to the present day. There are the usual suspects plus a few minor typos on the way. Willox the Warlock did not battle the Loch Ness Kelpie, his ancestor did. Marmaduke Wetherell did not find the hippopotami spoors, he created them. Moreover, Loch Latch is written as Loch Laide.

But Nick follows a parallel course as he presents stories from in and around Loch Ness that suggest there is more to this area than just elusive aquatic beasts. With that in mind, we are regaled with stories of ghosts, the Loch Ness Hoodoo, UFOs, out of place cats, Aleister Crowley, exorcisms, Men in Black, witches and other strange people with somewhat magical designs upon the place.

Indeed, Nick will answer such questions as why researcher Jon Downes was butt naked at Loch Ness and what Boleskine House has to do with the Disney cartoon, The Jungle Book! But this all culminates in the sinister suggestion that a serpent worshipping cult may have operated at the loch, and may even do so today. The evidence for this is somewhat tenuous, but considering men are inclined to worship almost anything past, present and future, why should that surprise us?

After all, we have had the rituals of Donald Omand, Doc Shiels and Kevin Carlyon. Have we missed anything out? To this end, Nick refers us to further clues which I leave to your judgement. 

Ted Holiday and Doc Shiels, of course, figure highly, as does Tim Dinsdale. Holiday’s untimely demise is viewed with suspicion. Shiels’ activities are not viewed with the same eye as Nick embraces him. His 1977 Nessie photos are generally rejected, but Nick puts up a defence, omitting to address the matter of the audio tapes featuring Shiels and friend Michael McCormick in 1977 which records them discussing how to fake monster photographs. Nick needs to reply to that before we proceed further with Anthony Shiels.

We know Tim Dinsdale was a member of the Ghost Club and had his own fair share of spooky stories (as well as an alleged demonic attack). However, Tim’s public opinion very much stayed in the biological domain. Did Tim secretly believe in a supernatural Nessie? Only his family and closest confidants can come clean on this, thirty years after his death.

As one that continues to believe in paranormal phenomena in other domains, I accept that strange things happen around Loch Ness. The question for me is how statistically significant they are compared to other geographical regions and what is the relation between increasing distance from the loch and diminishing relevance to the loch?

Moreover, having accepted the premise of a supernatural Loch Ness region, how do you use that to make the leap to a supernatural Loch Ness monster? And here’s the rub. Putting aside old tales of talking kelpies and indirect stories of other things around the area, what exactly is it about the modern monster itself that speaks of a paranormal nature?

The answer is precious little as Nessies don’t vanish like ghosts. They don’t do unnatural feats like fly off or speak to you. They don’t look as weird as werewolves or mothmen. They don’t give off sulphurous smells like devils or cause any strange synchronicities.

Maybe they don’t have to, but there are one or two things with better promise. The shape shifting thing; is that paranormal or normal? Nick points to variations in appearances described by witnesses. Perhaps so, but how much of that is accountable by intra-species variations due to sex, age or seasonality? How much of the variation is just down to the fact that eyewitnesses cannot deliver a 100% accurate description (but still accurate enough to point to a large creature inhabiting the loch)?

But all is not lost. As I close, there are some strange things that defy explanation for me. Ted Holiday’s weird experiences after the 1973 exorcism are not so easily dismissed and that strange figure he met near Urquhart Castle may not just be a mad motor biker. There are other tales that also make you think twice. I refer readers to the story related by Tim Richardson, which does not make it into Nick’s book, but points to something perhaps beyond the normal.

Is the Loch Ness Monster a demonic form, a psychic projection, a zooform or something else that is currently beyond scientific explanation? I know there are many people who class themselves as paracryptozoologists. It is up to them to continue to make the case for such a thing. I suspect their number is increasing; they just need to increase the arguments in line with that.

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  1. Good review. I suppose I will have to buy this book now.

    The Tim Richardson story is interesting. Unlike some of the commenters there I agree that what he saw is suggestive evidence of something too large to be a known inhabitant.

    About his camera failing, I note that he says such failures are not uncommon at the loch, so the possibility would be in his mind. Also he was in an unusual psychological state. I wonder if he could have mistaken another button for the shutter release. It's happened to me.

    1. Hmmm, how would one go about disproving your hypothesis about the wrong button, David?

    2. It's an interesting report, very atmospheric.

      I feel though it's a bit let down by him being very specific with his figures and measurements and then in the next breath claiming Urquhart Bay to be 'thousands of feet deep'

      In the 21st century I thought it's true depth was now widely known?

    3. It depends on the camera. I can't mistake the button on mine as there is only one. And if I remember, my partners SLR had one also.
      I wonder did camera failures happen when they were purely mechanical and not electronic?

    4. On my Panasonic FZ72 the shutter button is rather far forward, and if I'm in a hurry my finger sometimes finds the video start-stop or one of the programmable function buttons instead. From memory I think a number of early sightings were accompanied with reports of a stuck camera shutter - sometimes because of damp or long lack of use.

    5. This one is hard to quantify, as technology has evolved and many different cameras and technologies have been used over the years. How does one ascertain a higher level of equipment failure at Loch Ness, during a sighting (an exciting and stressful event, no doubt) than under other circumstances? It's probably impossible, but certainly anecdotally it sounds like there's an issue. I've owned 3 digital SLR cameras in 6 years and never had one shutter failure. But obviously this is very new technology compared to the 80 year old mystery that is Loch Ness, and my cameras were all used regularly. It would greatly interest me if someone could observe any odd effects on the many electronic devices we now own, in the event of a close up sighting, and in that regard, we live in interesting times.

  2. Sounds like a fun read. Does Redfern cover the Ghost Ship? I almost never see it mentioned; maybe it said to be St Columba's? I read about it years ago, maybe in a kid's LNM book, and maybe one or two other places. I think it was that same book (first one I ever read) that mentioned a tale about the footprints of some person (a preacher? Again, it has been decades) that were somehow preserved in the ground after he spoke...

    1. Nick briefly mentions the ghost ship. Of course, since it was Alex Campbell that told us about this ship, the sceptics will consign it to liar land. However, it would be good to see a seperate source for this legend. Can't say I have made any attempt to do this myself.

  3. Fear, dread, odd feelings, people being physically sick, animals that don't conform to any one species known to science, the whole thing sounds as weird as a bucket of monkeys. In the main, I accept that this is no ordinary mystery. Maybe the old folks were right about times when the barrier between this and other worlds are thinner. Maybe Loch Ness and others are places where this is the case.
    I'm wondering if equipment failures are to do with electromagnetic (or other) radiation output close to where a sighting occurs. I'm also wondering if that accounts for the unease or sickness reported by some. Obviously no one has had a way to measure this, as yet.
    I also read with interest a report from Morar which described a barely underwater object which was visible many times to the occupants of one particular house. The object appeared in 1966 (4 years after the occupants moved into the house) and continued appearing, behaving in very much the same manner on many occasions from then on. The owner was adamant that he would have noticed had the appearance happened before this (himself and his wife were retired). It seemed to follow the same path, at the same speed, stopping in the same place etc. I know animals follow a pattern at times, but almost exactly? Could it have been an apparition from another time or place, on a loop? Who knows.

  4. I have read this as well Martin. If I recall correctly they were the occupants of Swordlands lodge which is located near the deepest part of Loch Morar. They observed this type of sighting at the same time of year for several years. I think it was recorded by the LNIB in one of their investigations.

    1. I believe that is the case, although I think sightings were irregular but relatively frequent (twice a week to once a month), and most frequently in spring time.
      To be honest, I don't know what I believe about the whole issue, but I think there are many more facets to this mystery than meet the eye. I propose the above as a theory with little to back it up, but I do believe in the concept of dimensional interactions beyond our current scientific understanding.